I have always been a big reader, from insisting my parents reread Postman Pat to me for the thousandth time, to today when I would usually rather pick up a book than do almost anything else. Reading has been integral to my life and who I am, so it’s pretty natural that World Book Day brings me a lot of joy every year. I live for those round ups of kids dressed in their favourite character costumes (fun fact: I won first place for my Mildred Hubble costume when I was in Year 4). Understandably, after almost 30 years of reading, my tastes have changed somewhat, so I thought it might be fun to have a look back over my life in books…
The Famous Five by Enid Blyton
Enid Blyton was my first ‘favourite’ author, and I loved everything she wrote from The Magic Faraway Tree to Mallory Towers but it was The Famous Five that truly captured my imagination. Her books are full of adventure, whimsy and nostalgia, and I wanted to be a part of the gang so badly. I received the full set for my seventh (or maybe eighth?) birthday, and read them all cover to cover until it felt like I was friends with Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timmy, going off to their private island and foiling the plots of smugglers.
The Lottie Project by Jacqueline Wilson
Like all girls my age, I was a big fan of Jacqueline Wilson books and it’s hard to pick a true favourite as I’m sure at any one time I would have cited a different one – other runners up include The Illustrated Mum and Vicky Angel. But, although The Lottie Project is not one of her more famous novels, it really sticks out in my memory; as a school project, Lottie writes the fictitious diary of Charlotte, a Victorian maid, whose struggles mirror her own. It was the start of a love for historical fiction for me, for sure.
The Harry Potter Series by J.K.Rowling
I’m not sure I need to explain this one; which child of the 90s (or any other decade for that matter) doesn’t cite Harry Potter as their favourite books? My mum bought me the second one to read on our caravan holiday one summer, and I was immediately hooked, joining in with the hype with every release from there on out. Since then, my relationship with the books has deepened with every subsequent reading, and one of the things I am most looking forward to about having a baby is being able to share the magic with them.
Cuckoo in the Nest by Michelle Magorian
This book combines so many of my favourite things; theatre, historical fiction, seemingly-cranky-old-ladies-with-a-heart-of-gold… The protagonist Ralph has long been one of my favourite characters of all time, and whenever I pick up this book it’s like coming home for me.
Cat by Freya North
In my teens, I went through a big chick lit phase. I would devour as many books about glamorous women in magazine jobs leading complicated romantic lives as I could get my hands on. And, if I’m honest, I couldn’t tell you much about the seemingly hundreds of books I read during this time. I don’t mean to be disparaging, as I think ‘chick lit’ is an under-rated genre and is often dismissed out of hand – but I don’t think I was very discerning at the time, and would just race through them as quickly as I could. That said, there are a few notable exceptions to the rule, and Freya North’s first books, all named after their main characters, were some of my favourites – and I sometimes still think about them now, years later. As well as Cat, there were her sisters Pip and Fen, as well as Sally, Chloe and Polly, all of whom I loved equally – but I chose Cat because the book is set in France (in fact, it is about the Tour de France) and I read so many of these books whilst on holiday there with my friend Jess and her family, that it feels particularly fitting.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Oh, this book. It has my heart and will probably always be my favourite. It is heartbreaking and heartwarming in all the best ways, and it introduced me to so many concepts and ideas that still inform my thinking now. If you haven’t read it, you really must – it’s a tale of suffering but also of the redemptive power of love, female friendship and sisterhood. It’s an astounding tale, and I cry at the ending every single time. My copy is covered in notes from when I wrote my A-Level coursework on it, and it is one of my most prized possessions.
Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti
I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that this book changed my life. I’m not sure why I decided to order this from the library (perhaps because of books like The Color Purple?) but I’m so glad I did. I remember reading it and feeling both angry at the statistics and facts I was reading, and also relieved that it wasn’t just me that felt that anger. Having had this introduction to feminism, it became a central part of my life and has remained so ever since. I followed Jessica Valenti’s blog – Feministing – and from there discovered so many more blogs and books, which eventually lead to me doing my Masters in Gender, Sexuality and Queer Theory where my dissertation was on feminist blogging (what else?).
Villette by Charlotte Bronte
For an English student (by which I mean a student of English, not a student from England – although I am that, too), I have been pretty disparaging about classic literature in the past. I was scathing about Jane Austen during my A-Levels and was easily bored by school set texts. However, when I got to University that all changed and now I could wax lyrical about Austen and her ilk for hours on end – and it was reading Villette as part of a Victorian literature course that changed all that for me. Jane Eyre is usually thought of as Charlotte Bronte’s best novel, and although I now love it, it was the unusual character of Villette, the independent character of Lucy Snowe and the modern & pragmatic love story at its heart that turned my head and found a place in my heart.
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Alongside discovering a love for classical literature, I also delved into the realms of Booker Prize winners as part of my degree – and in doing so stumbled across Atonement by Ian McEwan, a truly incredible novel that affected me so deeply that I don’t think I can ever re-read it again. Ian McEwan is the king of surprise endings (I also love Sweet Tooth by him, which has a similarly incredible twist) and this one is all-consuming. I leant the book to a friend, and after a few days came down to find her sitting shock-still on the sofa – I knew immediately that she had finished it and was feeling all the feelings. It’s books like this that makes me think it’s not worth bothering to write, because it has already been done so perfectly (which I know is foolish, but seriously.. it’s amazing).
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
For a while after University, I read almost nothing. After reading three to four full books a week for three years, and then diving into some deep feminist theory for another two years after that, I was ready for a break. But it was Lolita that clawed me back into the world of books (and I am so glad that it did). This book is understandably controversial, but it is a true work of art and I think the opening paragraph may be one of the most perfect pieces of writing in the entire English language (so much so that I have accidentally burnt it into my brain by reading it so many times… Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins and all that). I’m forever grateful to Nabokov for reminding me why I love reading, and for putting me back on the path of my favourite hobby.
Yes Please by Amy Poehler
It is so difficult for me to sum up the past couple of years of reading; after undertaking a challenge to read 100 books in a year (and then 101 books the year after) I discovered so many incredible books. You by Caroline Kepnes, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill all jump out as recent favourites, but it feels as though they’re all still so fresh in my mind. It’ll be a while before I’ll know which books really stuck with me from this time in my life, but I’m certain that Amy Poehler’s ‘Yes Please‘ will definitely be on the list. When I grow up, I want to be Amy Poehler, and I turn to this book time and again for wisdom, reassurance and a giggle or two. At times, it feels like a guiding light, which is a pretty magical thing for a book to be.